Over the course of Bradford City’s rich and illustrious history, many famous names have worn the claret and amber shirt.
Most, if not all, of those have made their name in professional football and become household names in that sport: but over 60 years ago, one of Britain’s – and Yorkshire’s – most revered and respected sportsmen switched professions and had a short-lived spell as a Bradford City player.
Cricketers playing professional football is not completely unique; as most people will know from Ian Botham’s infamous stints at Yeovil and Scunthorpe United in the 1970s and 80s. 30 years earlier, however, Bradford City had their own cricketing legend on the books for a brief period.
Look through our heritage numbers, and you may not see the name Brian Close. That’s because his actual first name was Dennis. By the time the 1952-53 season had begun, Close had already made his Test debut for England and had established himself as a pivotal part of the Yorkshire side – so much so, that legend has it former Bradford MP Maurice Webb championed the case for Close to finish the domestic season with Yorkshire before commencing his National Service.
Close had already dabbled into professional football without success, actually signing for Arsenal in 1950 and became a prominent member of their A team. Close didn’t play at all during the 1950-51 season; he was also serving in the Royal Signals until September 1951.
And his time with Arsenal didn’t play out as expected; Close was reportedly given permission to leave a Yorkshire game early by his captain, Norman Yardley, to play for Arsenal. That decision was later overturned, meaning when Close arrived late for a reserves game against Fulham in April that year, he was unable to take his place on the field. Just days after that, he was informed he would not be retained by the Gunners.
Unperturbed by that, Close earned himself a chance at professional football much closer to his Rawdon roots: signing for the Bantams after the conclusion of the 1952 domestic cricket season, making his City debut on November 1, 1952 against Tranmere Rovers.
Playing centre-forward, Close scored on his next appearance for City in a 2-1 win over Chesterfield a week later – and he would go on to make six appearances for the Bantams in Division Three (North) that season, scoring on two occasions: his other goal in the league coming against Halifax Town on November 29 in a 1-1 draw.
Close was arguably more influential in City’s FA Cup campaign of that season, scoring three times in three appearances. Close scored twice in the 4-0 victory over Rhyl Athletic (now simply known as Rhyl FC) in the first round, before netting again in the second round, when City drew 1-1 with Ipswich at Valley Parade.
Close played in the replay, but City were hammered 5-1 in what was one of Close’s final appearances for the Bantams. He featured against Oldham and Port Vale following that defeat, but it was in that game against Vale when he suffered a serious knee injury which could have been even more damaging than it actually proved to be.
Ultimately, it ended not only Close’s time with City, but his professional football career altogether, Close unable to recover from that and resume his football career.
It even severely limited the amount of cricket he was able to play in the 1953 domestic season too – featuring only twice for Yorkshire throughout that entire campaign.
Thankfully, Close was able to return to cricket at the highest level on a permanent basis – winning back his place in the England Test side and remaining an integral part of Yorkshire’s successes throughout the 1950s, which included the County Championship triumph of 1959. Close then went on to captain the White Rose throughout a period of incredible success, captaining them to another four Championship titles.
He eventually moved onto Somerset, where he is still regarded in cricket for helping to develop a young Botham into the success he became – although quite whether he had an impact on his footballing career after his own time with City is not completely clear!
What is clear though, is that one of the most successful and respected sportsmen of his generation – and one of the finest stars Yorkshire has ever produced – had the distinction of representing Bradford City FC: even if it was for slightly less time than he would have liked.
Close remained in and around cricket for years after retirement. He passed away in 2015.
Heritage No. 474: Dennis Brian Close
Debut: 1/11/1952 v Tranmere
Apps in All Comps: 9 – Goals in All Comps: 5
League Apps: 6 – League Goals: 2
FA Cup Apps: 3 – FA Cup Goals: 3